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Blueprint for the Future

Built on a rock-solid foundation of trust, respect and philosophical alignment, and stemming from a friendship that began in dental school, the team at Northern Colorado Endodontics has been tapping into the power of partnership for almost 25 years.

*as feature in Endodontic Practice | US Summer 2022 Vol 15 No 2

Built on a rock-solid foundation of trust, respect and philosophical alignment, and stemming from a friendship that began in dental school, the team at Northern Colorado Endodontics has been tapping into the power of partnership for almost 25 years.  

The group of four endodontists practices within three thriving locations in the diverse communities of Fort Collins, Longmont and Greeley, CO, all north of Denver and tucked against foothills of the scenic Rocky Mountains. But none of that was in the plan until a chance meeting occurred, seemingly out of a movie plot.  

Founding partners Dr. Shane Bergo and Dr. Bradley LeValley lost touch after completing dental school at the University of Iowa in the 80s. LeValley went off to Marquette University to study endodontics and Bergo left the University of Indiana for residency, then did a stint in the Army, including a tour in South Korea. They reconnected unexpectedly at the 1996 AAE Annual Meeting in Seattle.  

“I remember getting to the hotel and looking at the attendees list and I was like, ‘Brad Lavallee. Oh, wow’,” Bergo reminisced. “I called him up and about two hours later we were partners.”  

“I think he was stalking me,” Lavallee joked with a laugh. “We met up and I just happened to have the blueprints for my office in my bag. I rolled them out and said, ‘It’s got four operatories. These two can be yours and these two can be mine.’”  

Bergo said he was considering opening a practice in Wisconsin but had always loved Colorado because of the opportunities for outdoor recreation and the family atmosphere; he knew immediately a partnership with Lavallee was the right choice for his future.  

“It really was that easy,” Bergo said. “We’ve seen a lot of other partnerships, even in the dental community here; they try for a year, and it falls apart. I don’t think we think about things in exactly the same way, but just enough to complement each other.” Lavallee and Bergo cite similar upbringings in Iowa, mutual personality traits and a shared philosophy of patient-centered care as binding agents.  

“We put the patients first and value being able to get people in who are in discomfort. Not everything we see is an emergency, but I would say most are urgencies. I think we all put ourselves in that patient’s shoes and have empathy; that’s probably our biggest commonality,” Bergo said.  

Bergo and Lavallee also share a common approach of nurturing their team members and treating them like family.  

“We’ve always put a priority on taking really good care of our team because when you find the good ones you want to hang on to them,” Lavallee said.  

Practice Manager Norea Schmollinger knows that better than anyone, having served the tight-knit, flourishing team with her business savvy and keen attention to detail for more than 20 years.  

“This place is my first child,” Schmollinger said, gesturing to the lobby of the Fort Collins office. “Starting out with Brad and Shane, we were like brothers and sister. It makes me emotional to think about the growth and how exciting it’s been, watching this mature into what it is. It’s truly phenomenal. And I love it, I love this place.”  

Schmollinger said she never believed she would work for in one place for so long, and only planned on serving the duo as a receptionist for a couple of years, then moving on to pursue other things.  

“I was right out of school, having just graduated for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley,” she said. “Three months in, the office manager suddenly quit, and Shane and Brad just turned to me and said, ‘Do you want it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll try it as long as you’re patient with me; I’ve never managed anything.’ So, I started, and then the growth… It just grew and grew.”  

“It was just so comfortable and so easy to be with the guys – I trust them because they are truly phenomenal people. They do everything wholeheartedly; it’s just who they are, and everyone they bring on has the same philosophy,” Schmollinger expounded.  

Even with a specific work ethic and care philosophy in mind, Bergo and Lavallee’s luck of being in the right place at the right time held and they didn’t have to look far to find the next member of their practice family.  

A Colorado-native and general dentist – and top referrer to Northern Colorado Endodontics – for eight years, Dr. Galen Geraets always had the notion to go back to school to study endodontics in order relieve people of acute pain. He approached Bergo and Lavallee, trusted peers and study club cohorts, for a letter of recommendation; they offered not only the letter, but the promise of partnership. Geraets accepted and Lavallee and Bergo spent the next two years anticipating his return and the opportunity for expansion.  

“Galen was an excellent dentist, and we knew he was going to be an excellent endodontist,” Lavallee said. And, as it turned out, the practice would soon need another clinician.  

Shortly after Geraets’ return to Colorado from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, the opportunity to acquire the Longmont, CO location arose because a peer in the specialty decided to relocate. The timing just worked out, Lavallee said.  

“After Longmont, we thought we’d hit the sweet spot and were done,” Lavallee said. With two busy locations and three doctors, Northern Colorado Endodontics had grown as much as it comfortably could. But that didn’t keep the phone from ringing. One short year later, another local colleague in Greeley reached out to Lavallee to offer her practice for sale. He told her that he appreciated the offer, but that they had reached capacity for the time being.  

“But then I hung up the phone and started thinking about it,” Lavallee said. “We got lots of patients from that area – we always had – and some of our referring dentists had been a little disappointed that we didn’t expand in that direction. So, I called her right back.”  

The move to expand access to care in the region was the right thing to do for patients. The offices are strategically placed so that the team can easily cover any location but spread by enough distance that patients – even those from neighboring states like Wyoming and Nebraska – can get treatment when needed. LeValley said that reach is particularly important because there aren’t many options for specialty dental services in the Plains. The location growth necessitated the addition of an associate to keep up with the demand. They landed one – an excellent fit – but lost him and his wife to another beautiful mountain town just two years later. But then entered Dr. Colby Dimond who rounded out the jovial, close-knit band of brothers and their Practice Manager-sister.  

“Someone was looking out for us,” Bergo said.  

Dimond, a Utah-native, attended dental school at the University of Utah and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota.  

“Seeing the camaraderie and the friendship, my wife and I knew immediately it was the right place,” Dimond said. He and his family, now bustling with four young children, were welcomed with open arms. The group has a running joke that they were just as interested in bringing on Dimond’s wife as they were the doctor.  

“We really do think of ourselves as a family – we probably spend more time together here with this family than we do with our families at home – so we try to keep that in mind,” Schmollinger said. “We have Friday afternoon clubs where we bring in a potluck and stay after to build some camaraderie. We have a big annual Christmas party, we celebrate in the summers, have barbecues together trying to build team and family connections.”  

Northern Colorado Endodontics’ family has grown to almost 25 team members, many of whom have been on board for years. Together, their commitment to patients is evident, as is their stance on growth and staying on the cutting edge of technology.  

“It was invigorating getting these guys (Geraets and Dimond) in after being in practice for 10 plus years. You can get a little stagnant, even when you read the journals and keep up, so it’s good to get that rejuvenation with younger blood,” Bergo said.  

Recently, the group took stock of the state of the specialty and began to consider another sort of partnership for further rejuvenation and support, and to future-proof the practice and their future. In 2021, Northern Colorado Endodontics made the leap and joined forces with US Endo Partners, a Specialty Dental Service Organization.  

US Endo is a national network of growth-minded clinicians, who collaborate to create better outcomes for their patients, partners and teams, and to advance the endodontic specialty. They focus on sharing best practices and key learnings, challenging each other to push past comfort zones, and encouraging peers to think bigger and achieve a higher level of success while feeling invigorated, connected and content in their careers and at home.  

“We were very successful, and our model was working well for us, but we saw what was happening with US Endo and the endodontists who were already involved – many of whom we already knew, who were very smart people with the same patient-first mentality,” Lavallee said. “It’s a larger resource and a brain trust you can draw from.”  

Bergo said the value of having a wealth of business specialists looking out for the practice is the key to the next phase of the practice’s growth.

“We’re good businesspeople – better endodontists, but good businesspeople. It’s great to get that outside perspective – even things like getting some help looking at the cost of our expendables, or help reducing bottom line numbers,” Bergo said. “Eliminating some of those things from our plate allows us to treat more patients, which makes a difference.”  

Dimond said the business support is key for practice operations, but also for his personal life.  

“It’s been a great decision and might even be more so at the start of my career. Knowing that I can focus on my family, which is still in its early stages, is important,” Dimond said. “I have four kids, so being able to dedicate a lot of time to them is something that hadn’t really been a part of my life during residency, which was kind of chaotic at times. To have the backend business things being handled and knowing that I have a group of partners with me for support is crucial for this part of my career.”  

Dimond added that the community-centric culture US Endo offers also plays a role in personal and professional growth.  

“You get so focused on your little world – your office, your operatory,” Dimond said. “This kind of partnership sort of expands your vision and gives you a broader view of the people you work with in the industry. It opens your mind.”  

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to a steadfast commitment to each other and to patients – just as it did when the practice formed at the AAE in 1996, after a quick review of some blueprints casually pulled from a bag.  

“I don’t take any of it for granted,” LeValley said. “We all have the same goals in the end and it’s all about patient care.”  

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